A Strange Loop became the most Tony Award-nominated production of the season today, receiving 11 nominations including Best Musical. On Friday night the show’s Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, composer and lyricist, Michael R. Jackson, gave a powerful and moving performance of Memory Song from the musical on stage at the 33rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards. Ahead of the ceremony he spoke with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann about why he wanted to perform at the GLAAD Awards. “GLAAD is such an iconic organization” Jackson told us, “that does so much for queer representation, visibility and advocacy. My show is very much a Black queer show, so it seemed like a perfect match to share this work with them.”
Reflecting on his motivation for creating the musical Jackson shared, “I started writing A Strange Loop because I felt misunderstood, unseen, and unheard. I wanted to try to create a specific representation of what it felt like to me to be a Black gay man. But at the same time, the show is not just about me, Michael R. Jackson, it’s about the concept of ‘me’ and how everybody has their own concept of self that they’re dealing with in their lives and the voices speaking in their head that may not always be the most encouraging. I wanted to take that internal experience and share it with an audience.”
During one of A Strange Loop’s most memorable numbers, Precious Little Dream / AIDS Is God’s Punishment, Jackson addresses the impact growing up surrounded by ignorant and homophobic attitudes towards HIV/AIDS has had on his protagonist, Usher. “That is a message that I frequently heard as a kid growing up gay in my church and also in hometown”, offers Jackson. “It took on an even deeper resonance while I was writing the show because a very dear friend of mine, unbeknownst to me, was suffering from HIV that had progressed to AIDS and he passed away three years ago. AIDS was suddenly at my front door and I wanted to share some of the messages that I know also affected him as well. So it was really important for me to share how toxic that message is and how it can actually lead to someone dying.”
Despite its darker shades, there is a strong element of hope running throughout A Strange Loop, something that Jackson says was a vital ingedient. “I can be very pessimistic and see the glass as half empty, but I’m also a very hopeful person” shares Jackson. “I think part of what makes the show interesting is that for all the terrible things that happen to Usher, he still has a little bit of hope. That is what makes the highs high and the lows low for him, and I think that that’s true in life. I wanted to offer that to an audience so that you just didn’t get one-dimensional doom and gloom; that’s no fun to watch.”
Among the 11 Tony nominations that A Strange Loop received today was recognition for the cast, including Jaquel Spivey for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, John-Andrew Morrison for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role, and making history as the first openly trans Tony nominated performer, L Morgan Lee for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role. On Friday night Jackson had nothing but praise for his cast, telling us, “They’re doing fantastic! Not to pat myself on the back, but I pretty much handpicked every one of them. Some of them I’ve been working with for almost 15 years. They’ve been my tribe to tell this very challenging and complex story. I’m very lucky that they’ve stuck by me, so I definitely want to stick by them.”
By James Kleinmann
A Strange Loop opened at New York’s Lyceum Theatre on April 26th 2022. For more details and to purchase tickets head to StrangeLoopMusical.com.